After another fantastic breakfast at the hotel, Susan and I took the girls to church. Those who were interested had been invited to attend Shelley and Kevin's church (reminder: Shelley's mom is Bea, one of the Aune siblings whose descendants gather for these reunions), which happens to be just a couple miles straight east of the hotel. We gave a ride to my uncle and stepaunt, Shine and Janet, while other relatives followed us in their own vehicles.
Easter Lutheran Church has two sites just a few blocks apart: Easter on the Hill (traditional services) and Easter by the Lake (contemporary services). Shelley and Kevin attend the one overlooking Thomas Lake. When the weather is nice, they set up open-sided tents on the lawn and hold the service outdoors. It was a gorgeous morning, so we all grabbed folding chairs, set them up on the lawn, and enjoyed a service that started with lots of music. Then the pastor wandered amongst the congregants, asking them to share aloud their "joys and concerns" (e.g., ill people for whom to pray or happy announcements for which to give thanks) (Shelley shared her gratefulness for all the family members able to attend the Aune reunion!), which one of the musicians kept track of on a piece of paper. Then she handed the pastor the list of joys and concerns, and he led prayers based upon what people had just shared! That was pretty awesome. Good music + good message (in the sermon) + energetic congregation + beautiful setting = invigorating church service!
Some relatives had already left to return to their own homes by the time we got back to the hotel after church, but we gathered with those who were still around to have coffee and cookies and say goodbyes. Then my sisters joined Susan, the girls, and me for dinner (at the Dairy Queen next to the hotel) before taking the hotel shuttle to the Mall of America in nearby Bloomington. Although we've been there several times before, that place seems to have changed each time we return with new restaurants and stores replacing some of the old ones and now with a new indoor amusement park (Nickelodeon Universe, which replaced Camp Snoopy). We had only a few items on our shopping agenda, so other than a few stops for specific items, we mostly just wandered around and took in the size and scope of the mall (the largest mall in the U.S.). Here are some highlights:
Susan snapped this pic of our daughters with me and my sisters, Cathy (next to me) and Sandy.
Sandy took this picture so that Susan could get into the photograph. Unfortunately, her face is obscured by Abigail's.
Abigail, Suzanna, and Hillary strike a pose in front of SpongeBob SquarePants in the middle of Nickelodeon Universe. Susan and I had kind of planned to let the girls ride a few of the roller coasters in the amusement park, but the afternoon passed by before we got to that, and soon it was time to board the shuttle for the return trip to the hotel. But there were absolutely no complaints from the girls; none of them whined about not riding the rides or even asked about the possibility. They just enjoyed wandering through the amusement park and peeking down on the rides as we saw them from each floor of the mall.
Maybe the girls didn't beg to ride the rides at Nickelodeon Universe because they were so pleased with their new dolls, purchased at Friends 2B Made. It is a build-your-own doll store like Build-a-Bear Workshop (recall their having created their own stuffed teddy bears last summer?). In fact, the clothes and accessories for Build-a-Bear bears fit the Friends 2B Made dolls, too. In this photo, Suzanna, Hillary, and Abigail are typing in information about their dolls in order to get printed-out birth certificates for them. The girls had brought along gift cards to spend, too, so they bought extra outfits for their bears and dolls. It was fun to watch them select clothes and shoes to match and to total no more than their gift cards allowed--they seemed so serious about it!
When we got back to the hotel, we took Dad and Beverly to the Green Mill (also next to the hotel) for supper, where I had some delicious chicken Marsala with grilled garlic potatoes. The server agreed to take our family photo before we left:
Standing: Sandy, Hillary, Cathy, Suzanna, Susan, me, and Abigail; seated: Beverly and Dad
When we got back to the hotel, the few remaining relatives gathered one last time to spend the night visiting, snacking, drinking, and bidding farewell. It was a terrific weekend with opportunities for us to see distant-ish relatives again as well as to reunite with my own sisters and dad!